Friday, July 30, 2010
Maintaining a healthy perspective during a crisis (Harold’s response)
I love Joanne's comment about Celia's servant-leadership posture towards her family during this time of crisis. It is often difficult when in the midst of an emotional rollercoaster to remember that sometimes it is not about us. We are called to serve one another. Though as Christians we often are reminded of this when dealing with others, we commonly forget these principles apply even more in our own homes. In fact, the bible points out plenty of places where it is hypocritical to put on a certain positive face towards the outside but adopt a negative stance within our homes. Sometimes we forget this though when we are dealing with own family.
As Joanne said, I hope Celia can keep her emotions in check and stay present for the family. Her level-headedness will ultimately benefit them all.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Maintaining a healthy perspective during a crisis (Joanne’s comment)
Family medical emergencies are stressful. The naturally occurring stress is inevitably compounded by family members who are unnecessarily dramatic in the midst of the emergencies. Between Rob, his mother, his sisters, and Celia, it is Celia’s job as the one most removed from the situation to maintain a calm and cool head. When she intervened and made the decision on Rob’s behalf to drive to Cleveland, she took on a servant role in his family for this crisis. I hope that as Celia sits and thinks this through, the thinking part will cool any rejected feeling she might have and help her to put the family’s actions into context—Rob’s family isn’t supposed to be thinking about Celia right now—they’re supposed to be taking care of one another. Then she can respond maturely and avoiding reacting in unthoughtful ways that will complicate an already painful situation.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Maintaining a healthy perspective during a crisis
Rob and Celia have arrived at the hospital in Cleveland after driving across state following the news that Rob’s father has had a heart attack.
Celia noticed that Rob became more pensive than he had been the closer they came to Cleveland. Rob directed her from the highway to the hospital, but from that point she was in charge even though they were just small things—deciding which lot to park in and noting where the cafeteria was as she navigated them to the cardiac care unit.
Rob was making a beeline to a nurses’ station and was far ahead of her when Celia saw Rob’s sisters flopped in chairs in a waiting room. Oh, well – Rob would find them soon enough. Celia assumed their mother was with their father.
Rob had two younger sisters. Sara, home for the summer after completing her sophomore year at Ithaca College, “tried to work as little as possible” at her waitressing job near the house. The youngest, Maria, was working at a daycare center and had decided to follow Rob to Columbus and attend Ohio State in the fall. Rob was excited about that; the chance to play big brother appealed to him.
Right now both girls were understandably subdued. Maria leaned her head on Sara’s shoulder, and Sara channel-surfed absentmindedly. When Celia greeted them they looked up in surprise.
“Is Rob here?” Sara said, while Maria said almost simultaneously “Mom didn’t say you were coming too.”
Celia tried not be hurt by their underwhelmed response and gave them grace because of the nature of the situation they were in. After all, their typically robust father was either still in surgery or had recently come out of it. At the very least, the remainder of their summer was not going to be about chilling with friends and taking trips to Cedar Point.
Just then Rob walked into the waiting room. Celia was about to ask what he had found out, because she had not yet learned anything from his sisters, when both girls leapt from their chairs and into Rob’s arms. Maria even started crying, then sobbing, as she babbled incoherently that “he was supposed to be out by now” and something about “won’t let Mom in” and Celia concluded that their father was in recovery following surgery.
“Mom just went in now,” Rob said. “Why don’t we go down to the cafeteria and get something to eat – by the time we’re done you can go in to see him one at a time.” With that Rob turned and led his sisters out of the waiting room and down the hall. The girls seemed immeasurably relieved that their brother was here to tell them what to do, and they continued to cling to him as they walked out.
Celia noticed that their purses and bags were still on the floor near their chairs. She sat down herself and tried to decide what to do next.
What does Celia do?
Friday, July 23, 2010
I’m glad that you’re here (Harold’s response)
I love this phrase for married couples, "I'm glad that you're here." On the surface, it sounds pretty simplistic, doesn't it? So, why do I think it is so profound? It conveys appreciation--gratefulness for what you have. It conveys value--realization that the person has value and views your relationship as valuable. It conveys choice--suggesting that when presented with an option to be absent or present the person chooses you. Think about that--appreciation, value, and choice. These are the elements of all trusting relationships. We all have to keep monitoring our own marriages along each of these dimensions so that we do not take what we have for granted.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I’m glad that you’re here (Joanne’s comment)
Bless Celia that she saw what Rob needed from her, and bless Rob that he thanked her for it. Family medical crises are difficult enough without everyone’s worst selves showing up for party, but as we have said before in this space, stress causes us to fall back onto our default (meaning lowest) levels of functioning. Since Rob and Celia don’t know what they’ll find at the hospital, the support they are showing now may be sorely tested. But the foundation is there, so we shall see what they do.
Monday, July 19, 2010
I’m glad that you’re here
Rob and Celia are driving to Cleveland, having heard an hour before that his father has had a heart attack. Rob was emotionally flooded following the news, so Celia took the lead and made the decision to drive across state immediately.
“OK. We’ll be there as soon as we can… love you too.” Rob disconnected the call from his mother. “Dad’s in surgery right now,” he told Celia. “He’s having an angioplasty.”
“Do you know what that is?” Celia asked from the driver’s seat.
“No idea,” Rob said. “None. No effing idea whatsoever.” Rob had pulled it together sufficiently after the initial news to eat, shower, pack a few items and begin to get his mind around the facts of his new world: that at least for the short term Dad was no longer in charge. More than anything, this was the piece that hit him the hardest.
The strange thing, though, is that Rob did not know he had relied on this. Rob had graduated from college two years ago and had begun his new job and found an apartment almost immediately; he had not actually lived at home since the summer following his freshman year at Ohio State. He was married, for heaven’s sake. But for the moment, the demographic accoutrements of adulthood were meaningless. Wife, job, and age aside, he felt like an orphan.
“Celia,” he said, still looking out the window. “I needed your help this morning. I was kind of stuck. Thank you.”
Celia briefly reached over and touched his leg to acknowledge his comment. Then she put her hand back on the wheel. Rob smiled, because he knew Celia did not like driving with one hand. They could never hold hands when she drove.
“I’m glad I rose to the occasion,” she said. “For once.”
Rob realized he was still a little overwhelmed by everything, because what Celia said felt like something that deserved a response, yet he was not sure what do to with it. She was being strong and self-deprecating at the same time. How to begin to respond?
“I’m glad you’re here,” he said, which was true and all encompassing for the moment. He might still be nude and immobilized sitting on the side of the bed without Celia’s intervention.
Whatever they might find at the hospital in Cleveland, Rob took comfort that they would face it together.
What do they find at the hospital in Cleveland?
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Stepping up when our spouse is shutting down
When doing couples workshops, I often talk about the “protective role” that we as spouses are to have for each other. This protective role can take many forms. It can be providing a boost to their ego when they are down. It can take the form of defending their effort when it is being unfairly criticized by others. And, it can be in the form of emotional support when they are wounded.
At some points in marriage, we all feel vulnerable. We experience things outside of our control (or maybe that we brought upon ourselves) that unduly rocks our emotional and psychological stability. At these times, we need someone who loves us through the situation. Sometimes, this support can be provided by a trusting friend or a reliable parent/sibling.
But, the person who we absolutely need to be there for us is our spouse. When we are shutting down, we need our spouse to step up and protect us.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Stepping up when our spouse is shutting down
Rob has just received news that his father had a heart attack. He is stunned, and unable to respond to his mother on the phone. It hasn’t sunk in yet.
Celia, sitting next to Rob on the edge of the bed, watched as his face registered panic, disbelief, and confusion in quick succession, settling on confusion for the time being. Clearly something bad had happened – a car accident maybe? She had heard him refer to “Mom” so at least she could tell his mother was OK. She could hear that it was silent on the other end of the line, too. Neither Rob nor his mother was saying anything at the moment, and Celia felt a power vacuum and a struggle to resist filling it going on between them.
Celia was not one to fill power vacuums herself. Her older sister Catherine had been the one in her family to take over on the frequent occasions that their mother seemed incapable of showing even a modicum of leadership. She and Rob and even their therapist all agreed that Celia’s inclination was to hang back and let someone else take over at times like this, and that it was part of what made them a good match. Rob was more than happy to take the reins in such situations and Celia was glad to yield.
However, Celia was very clear that this situation involved Rob in such a way as to make it difficult, at least at this moment, to take the lead. He and his mother both needed a little help right now.
She nudged Rob and took the phone from him. “Hi, Mrs. Benton. It’s Celia. What’s up?” She listened to the facts, and then took in the more emotional piece: that Rob’s mother felt entirely alone right now even though his younger sisters, both teens, were home for the summer, because her husband’s brothers and sisters were not being much help. Celia wondered why she didn’t call their church, but then she remembered that they didn’t attend church very often…
“Mrs. Benton? Mom – Rob and I will leave shortly and drive over. We can be there in less than four hours from now. Can you tell me what hospital?” Celia found a scrap of paper and wrote the name down. “OK. No, of course it’s fine. We want to be with you and Dad right now. We’ll call again when we’re in the car.” Celia signed off and hung up.
She looked at Rob. Rob’s confused look, which was previously about how to respond to the news, was now a confused look about what to make of Celia jumping in and taking over.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It seemed like the situation needed some help.”
How does Rob respond?
Friday, July 09, 2010
Maintaining togetherness when the unexpected happens (Harold’s response)
I appreciate Joanne's point. Our core selves are most visible under times of stress. When things are going alright, our cognitive selves are usually capable of regulating and keeping our emotional selves in check. Our bodies, however, are wired to respond to stress in a reactive mode. In other words, acting tends to take priority over thinking. In the process, we often do and say some things that we would not dare do when our full faculties are about us. In the 1970's, comedian Flip Wilson used to say "the devil made me do it." When our adrenalin levels are spiking, we often make mistakes that we want to blame on the devil. Despite our stressors we have to maintain responsibility for our actions because these actions often continue to have an impact long after the crisis is over. Of course, in marriage we must learn to extend some grace to one another during these stressful times recognizing that we probably won't be at our best. When you extend such grace, maybe you can transform Flip Wilson's line into "God made me do it." This is how you maintain togetherness when the unexpected things of life happens.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
Maintaining Togetherness When The Unexpected Happens (Joanne’s comment)
When family crises hit, that’s when family functioning can take a dive. We fall back on our most dysfunctional ways of surviving, whether that’s becoming helpless, falling off the wagon, cleaning out the ice cream stash, shutting down emotionally or becoming so overwrought as to be no help to anyone. Rob and Celia face many challenges together as this unfolds. Can Rob resist the pull into whatever level of functioning his family will display (and be mature and helpful)? Can Celia set her own needs aside temporarily to give Rob space to be upset and tend to his family? Marital resilience is tested at times like this—we’ll see what reserves Rob and Celia have to draw from.
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